Tag Archives: Prayer

The Simple “Complexity” of Spirit

I have deep conviction that life is essentially a spiritual enterprise; or, as someone has said, “We are spiritual beings having an human moment.”   But to be honest, I’m hesitant to even use words like “spiritual” for in my culture they too often refer to jargon and rhetoric which I now see as ideological bondage described by the Apostle Paul as, the “letter of the law” which he described as spiritually lethal.

Bear with me here as, in my hubris, I attempt to define “spirit,”  to put into words that which is Ineffable and therefore beyond the grasp of language. The human ego is driven to attempt to but this Essential into words, to capture that which always eludes the effort to grasp it.  This is the existential dilemma of human beings, having in their heart an intrinsic drive to find meaning only to eventually to discover that the Ground of our being where meaning is found is always beyond our ego’s effort to capture, and therefore “own” it.   This obsession eventually brings us face to face with the experience of humility in which we have the opportunity to accept that this “Ground” is present in the very quest that drives us and is satisfied when we begin to resign from the “beseeching” of the ego and rest in the comfort of Grace, in the knowledge offered to us by W. H. Auden that “the Center that we cannot find is known to the unconscious mind.  There is no need to despair, we are already there.” Or, to put this wisdom in biblical terms, we must come to realize that God is “the author and the finisher of our faith” so that at some point we give up the efforts of “the flesh” to earn salvation, be this effort intellectual or moral endeavor.

This brings up the subject of meditation, a dimension of prayer which is usually dismissed in Protestantism as it is antithetical to Protestantism’s obsessively rational approach to Spirit.  Meditation brings one to recognize the limitation of rational thought, a recognition that teaches one the value of thinking but simultaneously the value of recognizing, and experiencing that there is more to spiritual endeavor (and to life) than rationality.  The most powerful expression of this insight I’ve ever run across was provided by Shakespeare when, in Hamlet, King Claudius was on his knees in prayer, offering these words, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.  Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

So, how have I done in defining Spirit?  Failed miserably huh?  Well, good.  Then I’ve accomplished my purpose.  Life is a spiritual enterprise and rational understanding of it is completely beyond the grasp of our finite mind.  When this understanding and experience of finitude begins to sink into our ego-ridden consciousness, we are brought to our knees…so to speak, or perhaps literally.  For then we begin to embrace the incomprehensible Mystery of life which, paradoxically we recognize always has and always will Graciously embrace us.  “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

ADDENDUM–I am about to diversify with this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

 

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A Maya Angelou Prayer

Here is a prayer by Maya Angelou which I recently came across, demonstrating the “non-duality” approach to spirituality that I have come to appreciate.

 

Prayer
 
Father, Mother God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
 
Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.
 
And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.
 
For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
 
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
 
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
 
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
 
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.
 
Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give all the
world that which we need most — Peace.
 
— Maya Angelou

 

Some Subtleties about Prayer

In January when the Republican Party was still reeling from their unexpected loss to President Obama two months earlier, there was a lot of noise about ousting Senator John Boehner as Speaker of the House. But, according to a story in the Washington Post last week, several members of the House prayed the night before a critical vote on the issue and were “led” to spare Mr. Boehner. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-republicans-have-broken-into-fighting-factions/2013/06/03/7533e606-b8ff-11e2-92f3-f291801936b8_story_3.html)

Now, I’m always in favor of prayer in any circumstances, being it even ceremonial or perfunctory. I feel that any prayer is a venture to a field of reference outside of ourselves and is good. However, I am always given pause with public prayer, or public reports of prayer, and how “the Lord’ answered the prayers. For, I feel that often prayer is merely a request to get from On High what we want for our own selfish purposes. We pray intently and fervently for what we already want for motives which are often base; and then occasionally when we get a prayer answered we take great pleasure, announcing that “God intervened” through our humble petitions. Well, don’t forget that there is the phenomenon of a “blind pig finding a walnut every now and then.”

Sure, we should pray for what we need, we should make “our petitions known to God” but I think it is really important to remember that prayer can be an exercise in self-indulgence. To many Christians, or believers of any cut, view God as some concretely existing “Teddy Bear in the Sky” who waits for our beck and call, ready to give us exactly what we want, failing to recognize that many people at the same time might be praying with equal fervency for just the opposite. Some, of course do recognize this, but take comfort in the pious observation, “Yes, but then we are right with the Lord and so the Lord will listen to us”, implying that those who look differently on the issue are not “right with the Lord.” The implicit assumption belies an arrogance that makes me suspect that the prayer never gets beyond the halo of the pray-er.

I think at some point in our spiritual life we need to get beyond the point of seeing God at our beck and call, ready to “smite” those who disagree with us, ready to bring about our own purposes which, upon honest scrutiny, could often be seen as merely childish and selfish whims. At some point we need to get to the point where we sincerely conclude our prayers with, “Thy will be done,” and recognize that His will might be different than our own

Now, let me be honest. I’m holding forth about a group of conservative politicians with whom I certainly have a bone to pick. And, I think there is a degree of validity to my argument. However, I must admit that all of this discourse is merely revealing of what I recall my prayer life being about through most of my life. It has been really hard to “get over myself” and the process is not complete yet! We need to follow the advice of T. S. Eliot who noted that we must “Purify our motive in the Ground of our beseeching.”

Random Thoughts about Prayer and Such

Prayer is not a request for God’s favors. True, it has been used to obtain the satisfaction of personal desires. It has even been adopted to reinforce prejudices, justify violence, and create barriers between people and between countries. But genuine prayer is based on recognizing the Origin of all that exists, and opening ourselves to it….In prayer we acknowledge God as the supreme source from which flows all strength, all goodness, all existence, acknowledging that we have our being, life itself from this supreme Power. one can then communicate with this Source, worship it, and ultimately place one’s very center in it. (Piero Ferrucci)

I have paraphrased the teachings of Jesus before as, “Come on guys and gals, just get over yourselves! Get out of the way and I’ll fill the vacuum.”

But, so often, as W. H. Auden noted, “And Truth met him and held out her hand and he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

Hopi Prayer on Death

HOPI PRAYER OF THE SOUL’S GRADUATION

Do not stand at my gave and weep
I am not there,
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight
On the ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush

of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there.
I did not die.

My Spirit is still alive…

 

Rabindranath Tagore’s Prayer for His Country

 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; whee words come out from the depth of truth;where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action–into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

This beautiful prayer from the thoughtful Indian artist/poet/musician of the early 20th century reflects such wisdom and insight about the human predicament.  I really liked that thought about the “stream of reason” needing to not “lose its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”  Reason is such a gift but it can sure be misused and often is; in fact, usually is.  When reason is devoid of Spirit, “dead habit” always takes over and we then become arrogant, overbearing, and even violent.  This reminds me of a word of caution from W. H. Auden re the peril of “mere habits of affection freezing our thoughts in their own inert society.”  And then Goethe noted, “They call it Reason, using light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”

 

Nuanced Prayer of St. Anselm

 

I came across a beautiful prayer by St. Anselm that I wish to share. This prayer is so foreign to how I was taught to pray decades ago. It is so convoluted, complex, and paradoxical. I guess one could call it poetical. Prayer requires nuance and St. Anselm had a nuanced faith.

O Lord my God,
Teach my heart this day where and how to see you,
Where and how to find you.
You have made me and remade me,
And you have bestowed on me
All the good things I possess,
And still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that
For which I was made.
Teach me to seek you,
For I cannot seek you
Unless you teach me,
Or find you
Unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire,
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
Let me love you when I find you.